Energy & Resources

Light trouble

Sinopec’s costly taste in chandeliers

John Thain will never forget his wastepaper basket.

As the financial crisis spread around the world last year, much of the press opted to focus on the $1.22 million that the Merrill Lynch chief executive had paid to refurbish his office.

But it was the $1,400 price tag for Thain’s bin that grabbed the most attention. It was a PR disaster that most companies have looked to learn from.

Perhaps not in China, though, where local energy giant Sinopec is going through its very own Thain-moment. And not for a wastebasket, either. For something perhaps even less useful: a chandelier.

The debacle unfolded after an internet forum revealed that Sinopec had paid Rmb12 million for the chandelier, as part of a Rmb240 million renovation of its headquarters.

The timing of the revelation was unfortunate as consumers have been grumbling about petrol price hikes.

But a Sinopec spokesperson then rather missed the point by insisting that the crystal and copperised-steel-plate chandelier had ‘only’ cost Rmb1.56 million ($228,000). “It’s quite obvious why the public is angry,” writes the Beijing News. “Even Rmb1.56 million is exorbitant for a chandelier.”

The Dahe Daily agreed, saying it was more than most Chinese would earn in a lifetime. It calculated the money would have been much better employed paying for 1,560 children’s primary education.

Sinopec is majority-owned by the state, and a company spokesperson highlighted that it was subject to a ‘strict appraisal system’ before getting the go-ahead for construction work.

The Oriental Morning Post gives this short-shrift too: “An appraisal system that can’t curb careless spending by SOEs, has to be full of loopholes.”


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